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The Book Beat - January 31, 2020

As my bookstagram handle suggests, I try to fit in reading while mommying (and working and living). Some days I'm more successful than others. But when it's my birthday? I’m a big proponent of the “my day, my way” philosophy (the family loves when I repeat that mantra all day long). Plus, it doesn’t hurt to put a little book-nerd spin on it. When it's your birthday, I highly recommend grabbing a good book and heading to either a coffee bar or a regular bar to enjoy it (You better not be at work! I've never worked on my birthday and I don't plan on starting 20+ years in). What's better than doing that? Doing both!

Best of all, Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is an excellent book! Quirky, funny, poignant. I loved it and can't wait to discuss with my book-club girls next week.

Now, onto the book news of the week that made me take my eyes off the page. I included some links below for some interesting reading-related tidbits. I also included my own review of The Good Place TV series finale. It's rare a TV show ends with a truly outstanding episode, but this one managed to do it. It's even rarer that a TV show so perfectly explored the human experience. If you've never seen it, I can't recommend it enough. It's funny, cute, romantic, zany, philosophical, profound, and excellent.

Libraries FTW!

Looks like libraries were more popular than movies in 2019 and continue to be the most popular cultural activity in America. Yay!

Fee-Free Libraries FTW!

A lot of libraries have done away with fees for overdue books. I like this idea! I understand a fee if you keep a reserved book after its due date, but books you're just too busy to return? No need to have fees for those. I say that as a woman who is always just a few days late with mine. Ben Franklin called it a "free" library for a reason.

Women Writers in Philly FTW!

Women writers--particularly women writers from Philly--are seeing their recent work celebrated by readers (and the best-seller lists!) and I couldn't be happier. As you know, I met Liz Moore a few weeks ago and she was wonderful. Humble, smart, supportive, and super friendly, as her most recent book Long Bright River received accolade after accolade. My book-club is reading it next month and I'm excited. Last week, I recommended Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age. I loved it and it's so timely, considering its examination of privilege and how social media affects race relations in our country. I read Carmen Maria Machato's "The Husband Stitch" as part of my short-story challenge. It was provocative and definitely intriguing. And I just bought the audiobook of The Third Rainbow Girl.

I'm thrilled that these women have this supportive group to help them navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of the publishing industry. I'm also thrilled to see them doing so well and to hear how independent bookstores are booming, too. As always, I'll give a shout-out to my two local faves, which are not on the list in the article. Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton, PA, and Reads & Co. in Phoenixville, PA. Both are fabulous.

Definitely read this article. It's chock-full of exciting reading/book info!

Tinseltown Talk: The Good Place Series Finale

I laughed, I cried, I enjoyed this finale so forking much! From the start, this little-show-that-could was an underrated half-hour comedy that only produced 13 eps a season, but managed to charm its way into my heart thanks to some Netflix binging after season 1.

At that point I became a regular viewer and it was one of the rare shows I actually watched on network TV. This show's storyline found four humans finding each other and bonding in The Good Place, or the show's answer for heaven. Throughout four seasons it explored the theme of "what makes humans good?" with hefty doses of both moral philosophy (Chidi is a professor of ethics so there are many references to actual philosophers and ethical/moral theories) and zany, silly comedy. My favorite gag? You can't curse in The Good Place, so when you try and curse, it comes out differently. Example: "Holy, mother forking shirtballs."

Kristen Bell led the human contingent, while the always-great Ted Danson played Michael, a demon from The Bad Place who was conflicted about his place in the so-called afterlife. My favorite was Janet, a "not robot" who knew every answer to everything in the universe, and was played to perfection by Darcy Carden. I could go on, but just go watch it. I promise, you'll enjoy it.

Now to the profundity of it all. This show dared to ask, "What is the point of the human experience?" And "How do humans earn their spot in The Good Place (heaven)?" Amidst the silly jokes, the zany characters (Jason!), and the fun, it had one of the biggest hearts of any show I've ever seen. And this finale wore it proudly on its sleeve. When the real world's as scary, sad, and overwhelming as it's been lately, it was uplifting to see a fictional world where the characters grew, learned to love one another (even if they were very different), and, in the end, offered a brilliant "answer" to what happens to humans after they die. That answer? The mystery of death is what makes life worth living. And after you've died, there's still more mystery to come. How they answered that final mystery was just lovely.

The show didn't subscribe to any official religious text, but in truth I wouldn't be upset if the fictional heaven or The Good Place were real. At the very least, here's hoping the ideas it espoused--that humans can change for the better and people are at their best when they're helping others--resonate more in our real world.

Cover of the Week:

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

I've wanted to read this ever since President Obama recommended it on his last books-I've-read list. I finally got a hold of it this week and hope to start it soon. It's the story of a young black woman who works in the FBI in the late 1980s. She's recruited to join a task force that is attempting to undermine a communist leader named Thomas Sankara. While in his orbit for a year, Marie confronts her identifies as a spy, lover, woman, sister, and American. It sounds exciting and I can't wait to dig in.

I love the cover! The bold yellow background really makes colors of the main character draped in a flag stand out. It's intriguing and provocative and definitely piques my interest about just what happens on its pages.

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